O P I N I O N
A New Set of Priorities
On January 4, 2023, the introduction of HB 10 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives introduced a new change in priorities for the body, and the way things would be done. The bill, sponsored by 10 Republicans including Jason Osborne and Jeffrey Greeson (who would later get in trouble for an incident with a snow plow driver, was at first aimed at allowing parents to have much greater participation in the education of their child.
Under the terms of this bill, schools are required to report everything involving their child which happens at the school. Parents have the right to direct the “religious or moral training of his or her minor child,” and “the right to access and review all school records relating to his or her minor child.” The text reflects a belief that schools are indoctrinating students and teaching subjects contrary to a parent’s wishes. No provision is made in the text for what would happen if two or more parents have conflicting directions about what should be taught in the same classroom – if, for example, one parent wants no religious instruction while another wants Christian values and ethics taught.
Activists, including Sara Persechino, Campaign and Communications Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, suggest the bill would “erode the trust LGBTQ+ teens have with their educators – someone who they may trust at school – and could lead educators to forcibly out students before they are ready.”
The crux of the issue behind such disclosures appears to be whether schools are indoctrinating students to become LGBTQ+ against their parents’ will. No specifics are mentioned in the bill as to whether that happens or whether it doesn’t, simply that schools must inform parents of everything that’s going on – a cumbersome process that would likely require additional staff to be hired.
More than that, HB 10 represents the lack of trust and faith the bill’s sponsors have for schools in New Hampshire.
Under such disclosures, if a student at a school comes out in any way to a school official, the official would be required to report this to the parent involved or face punishment. The bill does not consider why a student may choose to withhold such information from a parent, or what a parent might do after a disclosure is made.
Moreover, in the case of gender dysphoria, a mental health condition recognized under the DSM-V, is legally construed as a health condition, which causes it to fall under HIPAA guidelines. HIPAA guidelines generally act in consonance with state law where disclosures regarding a minor’s health condition is in question. The question school officials must wrestle with is whether it is safe to make such a disclosure to a parent when the child has not made such a disclosure themselves.
An article published in a 2021 issue of Pediatrics highlights a study in 2018 made by Thoma et al. in which abuse of transgender minors was studied. Per the article: “In particular, TGAs (transgender adolescents) assigned female at birth were more likely to report psychological abuse by parents or other adults in the household.”
HB 10, in requiring disclosures of transgender students, could lead to parental abuse – despite the fact a provision in the text declares the bill does not endorse any such behavior. Whether intentional or unintentional, the bill is aimed to harm transgender and LGBTQ+ youth.
The bill failed to pass on March 22 by a vote of 189 to 195, with 11 abstaining.
The same is true for SB 272, a bill endorsed by 14 Republicans. SB 272 passed the Senate on March 16, while HB 10 has yet to be voted on in the state house as of this writing.
A pattern of anti-transgender legislation emerges when considering HB 417 and HB 619.
HB 417 adds “Sexual Reassignment” as a definition of child abuse, but, paradoxically, does not consider forcible genital mutilation on an intersex child as such. An intersex child is one born with ambiguous genitalia, while a transgender child is one who wishes to live as the opposite gender they were assigned at birth. The bill does not recognize intersex as a valid condition, but instead declares such a person’s gender is “in question.”
With regard to a transgender child, under this bill, child abuse would constitute hormonal blockers or “drug treatment” as well as “surgical options.” The bill had a single sponsor, Republican Dave Testerman of Merrimack 3.
In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equity (NCTE) conducted a survey among 27,715 respondents across all 50 states – the largest survey of its kind at the time. Forty percent of respondents in the survey had attempted suicide, while many “reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life.”
Eighteen percent of respondents claimed their family was “unsupportive.” Those who had supportive families were “less likely to report a variety of negative experiences related to economic stability and health, such as experiencing homelessness, attempting suicide, or experiencing serious psychological distress.”
In other words, when a transgender person has the support of those to whom they are close, they have better lives. When support is not present, according to the study, a wide range of negative deleterious effects can occur.
HB 417 would make supportive families and doctors criminals while increasing the above effects on those families who wish to support their transgender child through the application of medicine.
Puberty blockers are a common method of “drug treatment.” The blockers may be injectible or may come as a subcutaneous implant. Blockers are generally reversible but may have long-term side effects such as lower bone density – which can be offset through the consumption of Vitamin D.
Those who experience a delayed puberty such as those who choose hormone blockers at a young age but later decide to stop using them, would experience a normal puberty at a later age, something that can happen without medical intervention.
Dartmouth-Hitchock, the only provider in New Hampshire who offers gender-affirming surgeries, only offers them to patients 18 years and older. No medical provider in New Hampshire is performing gender-affirming surgeries on minors. Any minor who would seek surgery would need parental permission to do so. What is more, minors do not usually obtain medical insurance on their own or have the resources to pay for surgery out of pocket.
Rather than addressing a crisis in pediatrics, HB 417 is little more than a bill at variance with current scientific understanding and practices. Its passage into law would only make it more difficult for transgender youth in New Hampshire to have happy, fulfilling childhoods.
The bill was declared inexpedient to legislate on March 22.
HB 619, sponsored by eight Republicans including Terry Roy of Deerfield, prohibits gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The bill cites several risk factors for “cross-sex hormones,” but does not specify how common these risk factors are or how they may be avoided with regular medical checkups. Additionally, the bill prohibits gender-affirming surgery on minors, which, as stated above, is already not happening in New Hampshire.
The bill’s text suggests that, because a small percentage of the population is transgender, and because mental health care services are available, pharmacological intervention is unnecessary. While the word “studies” is used, the studies are not cited in the document.
One sentence suggests that transgender people are becoming more common due to a law of economics: “XIII. (a) It is an accepted principle of economics and public policy that when a service or product is subsidized or reimbursed, demand for that service or product is increased.”
Seen this way, prohibiting gender-affirming care of any kind is a way to eliminate or reduce transgender people as a class in New Hampshire.
HB 619 has been retained in committee and has yet to be voted upon.
A Nationwide Pattern
In early March 2023, Michael Knowles, a political commentator for the Daily Wire, went on stage at CPAC and declared the following:
“There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing. If transgenderism is true, if men really can become women, then it’s true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false, as it is, if men really can’t become women, as they cannot, then it’s false for everybody too. And if it’s false, then we should not indulge it, especially since that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people. If it is false, then for the good of society, and especially for the good of the people who have fallen prey to the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely- the whole preposterous ideology at every level.”
Knowles wasn’t the only one who spoke out against transgender people that day. A contributor for Yahoo News called it a “Hate Fest Against Transgender People.”
Alejandra Carabello, a contributor for Wired and Slate, as well as an instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic, posted on Twitter that Knowles was advocating for “genocide against transgender people.”
While this was not the first time Knowles has called for banning “transgenderism” from public life, he has not been clear on the details of how one does so. Instead, it’s been up to state legislatures in Republican-controlled states to pass their own laws as they see fit. Knowles’ lack of specificity and his use of the word “eliminate” make it easy to infer negative connotations about his speech.
SB 1029 from the Texas State Senate claims that medical providers perform gender-affirming care on people in order to gain lifelong patients, causing a conflict of interest. The bill’s remedy then is to enumerate liabilities on the part of doctors, pharmacologists, and other medical professionals, for offering gender-affirming care. A patient could claim liability from medical malpractice.
How many patients have petitioned for liabilities as a result of gender-affirming care gone wrong is not mentioned. Individuals who wish to detransition and feel they were being misled by the medical community are not mentioned. Negative side effects from transition resulting in further medical intervention are not mentioned.
Arkansas SB 43 prohibits “Adult-Oriented Performances in Public.” While the bill was initially aimed at drag performers, it was later amended to include nudity – something already covered under indecent exposure laws. The ACLU of Arkansas claimed it still threatened LGBTQ+ people and violated First Amendment protections relating to free speech.
Tennessee SB 3 3 targeted “a person who engages in an adult cabaret performance on public property or in a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.” The bill takes aim at drag show story hours in which a drag performer reads to children.
Utah SB 100 requires that schools disclose to parents information regarding a child’s gender identity, if they are non-conforming. It is similar to New Hampshire’s own bill, but less comprehensive, and more specifically focused on transgender youth.
Mississippi HB 1125 bans gender-affirming care for minors, calling them “experimental procedures,” despite the fact that experiments are not being conducted. Moreover, gender-affirming care is always done with parental consent. This bill, and others like it, prohibit parents from helping their child obtain gender-affirming care if the parent consents.
These bills, and many others like them, form a nationwide pattern of an attack on transgender rights. Whether upon transgender youth, transgender adults, drag performers, medical professionals, or school officials. Taken as a whole, the effort of many state legislatures is to, as Michael Knowles put it, “eradicate transgenderism from society.”
“All students – including LGBTQ students,” Persechino said, “Deserve bright futures. LGBTQ students should have the same opportunities to learn and thrive as other students, yet they often already struggle with bullying, harassment, and being told they don’t belong. When extreme politicians pass laws that say being LGBTQ is so shameful schools can’t even discuss it, the emotional harm can be devastating. These attacks add to the isolation and fear that LGBTQ youth cope with as they struggle to accept and love who they are.”
During a protest on March 7 at the NH State House organized by 603 Equality various groups from across the state, including 603 Forward, New Hampshire Democrats, and Planned Parenthood, showed up to speak out against the various anti-transgender laws under consideration at the state congress. Some people showed up without signs just to be there, while others held signs saying “trans people belong here,” “defend trans kids,” and “love your trans kids.”
New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) reported on March 6 that bans on gender-affirming care would have a “catastrophic” effect impact on LGBTQ youth.
Erin Reed, who describes herself as a public speaker, content creator, and activist, runs the website Erin in the Morning from her home in Washington, D.C. She has made it her business to track and catalog anti-LGBTQ legislation throughout the country.
“We’ve moved from sports bans in 2020,” Reed said, “to then healthcare bans in Arkansas and other states in 2021 and 2022. Last year was one of the most anti-trans years in history in terms of the amount of bills being proposed, and this has almost doubled that. So we have seen a really intense increase in anti-trans legislation.”
One of the situations Reed has been tracking has been in Florida, where courts have struck down laws at variance with the state’s standards of medical care. Recently, the state of Florida has attempted to change the state’s standards of care in order to push anti-trans legislation through. Even with that in place, they would still have to come up against the fourteenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
“I think we have to take Michael Knowles’s words to his credit,” Reed said. “We have to take them seriously. He said repeatedly on his own show that he wants to see the complete banning of transgenderism from public life, and then turned on that same video and said that transgender people are not a valid category of being.”
Linds Jakows from 603 Equality has been tracking anti-LGBTQ legislation, both locally and at the state level in New Hampshire for some time. They organized around a situation in Milford where the local school board contemplated a bathroom ban.
Included among their other efforts: organizing against book bans, making group meet-ups in Concord and on the Seacoast, as well as speaking out against various anti-trans legislation in the state congress.
“I’m doing this work because it’s really personal to me as a non-binary queer person,” Jakows said. “I moved to the state eight years ago not knowing anyone for a political job that was very short-term and got extended longer. At first, I felt like I was the only non-binary person in the state of New Hampshire. Through community spaces, support groups, art spaces, I slowly got more connected with more people in the community.”
Jakows has thus far taken the position that students should be able to come out to whoever they feel comfortable with, an idea which may be grating to some parents who discover their child doesn’t feel comfortable coming out to them. Nevertheless, their focus has been on child safety and well-being, which could be endangered by current legislation.
“I think abuse is really at the core of these bills,” Jakows said. “There were other people that testified against the HB10 who shared other stories of abuse that didn’t have to do with being LGBTQ. Teachers and other people often miss a lot of signs about abuse. It’s not always clear. So we really need to exercise caution around what disclosure looks like when it could enable really serious abuse.”
State Rep. Gerri Cannon of Somersworth came out as transgender to her family in her middle age. Doing so cost her the house she lived in, the family she lived with, a job at Hewlett-Packard, and disrupted her life in a variety of ways she couldn’t have predicted. At the time when she came out, there wasn’t a lot of knowledge or acceptance around transgender people. She lived in a time when Aerosmith’s song “Dude Looks Like a Lady” was a popular radio hit.
Even after getting a new job as a tractor-trailer driver, she was not paired with a trainer at first. No one wanted to train her for a period of months so that she could continue working and supporting herself. It took an email to a company vice president for a trainer to be found, whom Cannon described as an “wonderful black man.” The two of them got along well, and Cannon worked for another five years as a driver going here and there across the country.
Doing so allowed her to buy her own house and run as a state representative, a position considerably less well-compensated than what she had previously. The whole time while she drove around, she thought about transgender rights in her state, and whether she could do anything to help. Eventually, she realized she could do something.
“I got involved again with Freedom New Hampshire,” Cannon said. “We got a bill submitted and it was approved. In the same year, I was elected to the Somersworth School Board, and then I was elected to the state house. The people that I was looking for as leaders in the community, there’s a lot of transgender folks, but I think a lot of people look to me now to be the leader.”
Part of the reason why people may see Cannon as a leader has to do with her submission of HB 368, a bill sponsored by twelve Democrats which provides protections for gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care. The bill would prevent enforcement of other states’ arrest warrants or subpoenas for violations involving gender-affirming care. Cannon’s goal, in her own words, is to make New Hampshire into a sanctuary state similar to Minnesota where transgender people feel safe to exist.
When a Christian group called Cornerstone “held her bill hostage,” in exchange for a transgender youth sports ban, Cannon said, “I’m not going to give into that. I think if people want to participate in sports, they should be allowed to. I know that athletic associations are struggling, because they do recognize that transgender people have a right to play sports as the gender they are.”
Cannon concluded, “At the state house, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people. Even when I’ve struggled to get bills through, I’ve met so many Republicans, made decent friendships. We may not agree on a lot of things but they’re good people.”
Whether the anti-trans legislation will pass or get signed into law, or whether Cannon’s legislation will pass and get signed into law, is anyone’s guess. What is clear, however, is that anti-trans legislation is going to continue even while some individuals openly express hatred of individuals they may have never met.
Children at school are being sent a chilling message that it may not be safe to come out anywhere, and they simply have to stay in the closet until adulthood – a situation that would likely strain a parent-child relationship even further.
Parents should be involved in their child’s upbringing, just as children should feel safe to confide in their parents.
If these things aren’t happening, it’s up to the parent and child in question to work things out between themselves in order to foster a better relationship. Legislation that turns schools into large systems of surveillance and reporting seems unlikely to change a child’s mind about who they are as an individual or to increase trust in the family. Only open discussion and honest acceptance will create the type of familial relationship desired by politicians and parents.
Transgender minors do not undergo gender-affirming surgery. Such surgery would require parental consent. Neither Dartmouth-Hitchock nor Boston Children’s Hospital offers surgery to minors. The notion of medical abuse being practiced on transgender children is a myth for New Hampshire; as such, state laws are not necessary to prevent its occurrence.
Hormone blockers may be utilized, but they are always done with informed consent of both child and parent. FDA-approved medications cannot be easily obtained with what few resources a minor is likely to have; nor are there a great many stories about minors with fake identification documents obtaining medication illegally. As such, laws prohibiting minors from obtaining access to hormone blockers are unnecessary, because the parent is always going to be involved in a decision for their use.
Legislation that prevents the use of hormone blockers for transgender youth is an abrogation of parental rights. In essence, it turns a minor into a ward of the state who can only undergo certain procedures approved by legislators, the majority of whom are not themselves medical professionals. If a parent wishes to support their transgender child, current laws under consideration in New Hampshire would prevent them from doing so – even while they are informed about everything they do and are exposed to at school.
Attacks on drag show performers are not dissimilar to Comstock Laws from the 1890s which took aim at female dancers and printed pornographic material purchased by adults. Drag performers are seen as inherently sexual in such attacks, people who corrupt minors. In reality, many such performances occur outside of school, as was the case for an event in November 2022 where a performer held an event at Teetotaler Cafe in Concord. Parents who did not wish their children to see the event simply had to stay home.
Finally, while the attacks do not appear to be abating any time soon, there has been a rise in affirmation and acceptance of transgender people which was not seen previously, particularly at the time when Gerri Cannon came out to her family. Now, for many Americans, being trans is simply being human.
Those who would deny transgender rights also deny human rights. Those who accept transgender rights are those who accept human rights. The state legislature, if it must do anything, should take steps to protect a vulnerable and disenfranchised group- one already defined as a federally protected class. Those who take it upon themselves to revoke the freedom of one group have the power to revoke freedoms for all.
Transgender youth deserve to have a happy, healthy childhood. Drag performers deserve the chance to ply their craft in peace, without disruption or attack. Medical professionals deserve the respect owed to their many years of study and experience. Teachers and school professionals deserve patience and respect in dealing with difficult situations on a daily basis.
Most of all, everyone in America, regardless of who they are as a person, deserves to live in freedom.